Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Monday, 24 September 2007 12:43 UK

Profile: Clarence Mitchell

Clarence Mitchell is back in front of the camera again - this time as the spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of missing four-year-old Madeleine. Former colleague Laurie Margolis recalls his time as a BBC journalist.

My first memories of Clarence were when he joined the BBC as a regional reporter in Leeds.

Clarence Mitchell
Clarence Mitchell worked on several high-profile cases as a reporter

Then he made it down to London, first on Breakfast News, then as one of the team of reporters who worked for the main news bulletins on national TV and radio.

I was another in that reporter pool in the early 1990s, and it was a difficult time for many of us, because the BBC bosses of that era became obsessed with specialists, people who may well have known their topic, but were often poor at turning that into watchable TV News.

General reporters like Clarence were highly skilled TV journalists, able to get their heads round any subject at short notice. But such people were out of fashion, and I think Clarence found it frustrating.

Nevertheless, he became a major figure in several big domestic stories.

He was closely involved with the Fred and Rosemary West case, where a murderous couple had killed young girls and buried the bodies under their patio in Gloucester.

Royal coverage

He was one of the first reporters to arrive at Gowan Avenue, Fulham in south west London, when the immensely popular BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was shot dead in a murder many feel has never been satisfactorily explained.

And more recently, in a story he worked on right up to the day he left the BBC, Clarence led coverage of the murder of the Surrey schoolgirl Millie Dowler in 2002. The case has never been solved.

Towards the end of his BBC career Clarence became heavily used on royal stories. He was deeply involved in coverage of the post-Diana era and the death of the Queen Mother.

Clarence was also a presenter on various BBC news programmes, and may have been looking to make that the main plank of his career.

But the presenting world is a precarious and capricious one, and he never quite made it.

One night, when I was working through the night, Clarence was presenting hourly bulletins on BBC News 24.

He did the 1am, and the 2am, but at 3am a slightly dishevelled looking producer appeared doing the news. It turned out Clarence had closed his eyes, and had slept through the 3am programme.

Madeleine maelstrom

Clarence left the BBC quite suddenly, making a move into the Labour government as director of its Media Monitoring Unit. His salary was widely reported to be 70,000 a year.

Madeleine McCann
Madeleine was last seen on 3 May

As the Madeleine McCann story exploded this summer, it became clear that a high level of control and organisation would be needed to cope with the media maelstrom.

Clarence was plucked from his job, and sent out to handle the media, rather than be part of the media, on a massive crime story. Now he's left his government job and gone in with the McCanns full-time.

Setting aside the essential tragedy of whatever happened to Madeleine McCann, I would imagine Clarence is content in his new role as the family's voice.

He's centre stage on a huge story, intimately involved as ever, and on television and in the papers all the time.

It was extraordinary how, last week, his intervention seemed to eliminate within hours any misgiving about the McCanns in the British media.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if he gets to tell us Madeleine has been found safe and well?

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